It almost seems silly to continue to mention it everytime it happens. But the truth is finding a clutch player is much, much harder than what Gignac makes it seem. Since his arrival back in 2015, the French star has proven time after time that no matter the situation, he will answer in the clutch when called upon. And despite the dire situation Tigres found themselves in after Aquino’s 20th minute red card, yesterday was no exception.
That’s right. After an uneventful first 19 minutes with tepid approaches at best by the home side, a completely unnecessary Aquino slide with his cleats high in the air caught Uruguayan Facundo Batista’s shin dangerously, easily deserving of a sending off. That left Herrera’s side in a major pickle as they were a man down with still 70 minutes to go in a scoreless, direct elimination match. Judge for yourself.
But that didn’t shake Gignac’s resolve... or Tigres’ for that matter. They prevented Necaxa from creating any sort of danger and even approached Malagón and company’s goal on a couple occassions, putting the ball in the box in threatening fashion. Even with Necaxa being a man up, you still got the sense Tigres were much closer to taking the lead. And with the halftime whistle blowing and the score still 0-0, that man advantage was soon to dissipate.
Two minutes into the second half, Facundo Batista, who had received the foul on Aquino’s red, decided to make the same kind of mistake when he dangerously stuck his cleats into Fulgencio’s calf/ankle as he ran with the ball. Central ref César Ramos originally booked Batista for the challenge, but upon being summoned to lean on VAR for the decision, changed the card to a red.
And that proved to be Necaxa’s ultimate undoing. Both teams were put back on level terms and Tigres wouldn’t let it go to waste. Ten minutes later, a rather far Tigres’ free kick set the stage for another Gignac classic, as the ball’s flight began headed to the center of the goal, but slowly curled away from keeper Malagón and into the top left corner for the 1-0. An absolute world class strike.
If you thought that was the end of Gignac’s contribution, think again. Continuing to serve as the centerpiece of Tigres’ attack with dangerous runs behind defenders and passes to set up his teammates, a Fulgencio cross from the right side in the 73rd minute saw Gignac anticipate the ball ahead of Necaxa’s defender, allowing him to get his head on the ball for the ultimate 2-0 dagger.
Not only did this score have a collective meaning as Tigres sealed their Quarterfinal spot, but a personal and historic meaning as well. His two goals yesterday night put Gignac at 28 total in his Liguilla career, tying him for 3rd overall with García Aspe. The only two players standing in his way now of becoming the all-time Liguilla scorer are José Saturnino Cardozo with 43 and Jared Borgetti with 41. A feat definitely possible within the next couple of years dependant on whether he can maintain this superb level of play, as well as Tigres making deep playoff runs as well.
A dominant performance in the end by Tigres last night, side by side with a clutch Gignac, proving that 12th placed Necaxa was never a match. It would’ve been a bitter disappointment had Tigres not moved on to the QF, and thanks to it, will now measure up to 4th placed Pachuca this week in what is sure to be a high quality showdown, as many also consider Pachuca to be title favorites.